What a turnout for our June meeting! Thanks to everyone who came, it was brilliant to see some new faces. Alright then up on the agenda was Emma Cline’s The Girls. Published in 2016, Cline’s debut novel follows Evie Boyd as she revisits a tumultuous summer from her teenage years. Back in the sixties, Boyd finds refuge from her disappointing family life in a nearby commune, led by an enigmatic musician named Russell. The novel charts Evie’s increasing involvement with Russell’s posse, which reaches its climax when she almost takes part in a gruesome murderer.
One of the main talking points of the meeting was the book’s setting. Although parts are set in the present day, the majority of the novel takes place during the Summer of Love. Cline plants her story in a fictional town in Northern California, however it also appears to be tethered to real-life happenings. Here, we debated how much influence Cline drew from the Manson Family. Quite clear parallels can be seen between Charles Manson and Russell (his musical ambitions, his predominantly female following, etc.). Similarly the character Mitch (Russell’s celebrity friend with links in the music industry) appears to be a reference to Dennis Wilson – the Beach Boy drummer who had ties with Charles Manson. With this in mind, I asked whether the book could be described as “historical fiction”? The resounding answer was “no”. After discussing what constitutes “historical fiction”, a few book club members confirmed that without references to actual events or people, The Girls doesn’t really fit into the same category as titles like The Other Boleyn Girl.
Another topic of debate was Cline’s writing style. This point was raised by a regular book clubber who couldn’t make the meeting, but had emailed in their critique of the book. I think a few of us agreed that the beginning of The Girls was a bit slow and wordy. However, this style was noted to have improved as the book went on. We also spent some time discussing authenticity and accuracy. Later in the meeting, when we were reading a selection of book reviews, we discussed one critic who was very displeased with Cline’s depiction of drug use. The critic claimed to have used hallucinogenic drugs and cited falsehoods alongside other, somewhat irrelevant inaccuracies. Still, I don’t believe that these were red flags for any book clubbers. Instead there were questions surrounding the ineptitude of Evie’s parents and Russell’s unexplainable appeal. I think everyone agreed that Russell was vile and outwardly unappealing, which left us asking how he’d actually cultivated such a following? Here, Cline wasn’t exactly forthcoming. The fact that Evie was able to stay at Russell’s ranch for days on end was equally odd. Yes both of Evie’s parents were self-involved, but failing to notice that their fourteen-year-old daughter had joined a cult seemed quite a stretch. Having said that, two book clubbers with first-hand experience of America at that time noted that these types of experiences were quite plausible.
So, all in all, Emma Cline’s The Girls received an average score of 5.9/10. Our next meeting is Monday 3rd of July, same time, same place (St. Saviour’s Church Hall, 7pm). We’ll be discussing Hubert Mingarelli’s A Meal in Winter, so bring along some treats if you want to stave off your hunger! LOL! Hope to see you all there.
Adam, Carnegie Library book club